Let them play!

Play is essential to learning, and creating an environment which allows for play while nurturing children’s learning and development is as important as creating an environment that nourishes and encourages the growth of plants in a garden. The link between the two was first recognised by Froebel in the early 19th century when he coined the term “kindergarten” which translates to “garden for children” (kinder meaning child and garten meaning garden), and created the first educational toys.

Froebel “devoted his life to educating children and developing methods to maximize human potential”. He was the first to recognise the importance of a child’s early years (birth to three) and considered creativity to be something in all of us.

Froebel’s kindergartens were the first “formal” education for young children and his work greatly influenced that of other educators such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. His beliefs, for example that children have both unique needs and capabilities are still influential today. He believed in the importance of play and some of his toys were favourites of people such as Buckminster Fuller and Albert Einstein.

I have touched on the topics of playcreativity and children’s uniqueness in previous posts. A respectful, encouraging, nurturing and stimulating environment underpins all that I value in education; as does a belief in the power of play to develop understandings of self, of others and relationships, of the world and how things work, and to inspire thoughts of what could be, to imagine possibilities never before imagined.

johnny_automatic_playing_dress_up

While Froebel’s beliefs, and those of his followers, are still valid, sadly they are often disregarded by those who wield the power in education, who dictate otherwise.

In a previous post I shared an article by Paul Thomas who attributed his readiness to learn at school to the richness of his home environment. He also decried the formal tedium of school lessons which contribute much to curbing a child’s enthusiasm for learning. Paul is not alone in his views. There are many teachers who agree with him, myself included, as I have shared many times before, including here and here.

I am not the only early childhood teacher to be saddened and appalled by the formal approach that has been enforced upon teachers, replacing play-based approaches in classrooms for children as young as four. With the administration of standardised tests and the publication of graded results, children are labelled successes or failures before they have had a chance to develop. Those children from privileged backgrounds, as described by Thomas in Formal Schooling and the Death of Literacy will be immediately successful. Those from less advantaged backgrounds will be labelled failures. Unfortunately, the labels are often reinforced with little chance of replacement.

A+   F

I am always gladdened when I hear another expounding the benefits of play and the importance of child-centred approaches to learning and teaching. I hope that when enough voices unite in this important message, the tide will start to turn, and those with the power to make changes will do so in favour of children.

the importance of being little

This week I read another article stressing the importance of play for young children. The article, written by Susan Gonzalez for Yale News, introduces a recently published book by Erika Christakis The Importance of Being Little. I have not yet read the book, but I know that I will agree wholeheartedly with its content. The title itself tells me the value of its message.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In words reminiscent of my poem “Education is” Christakis says that “schooling and learning are often two different things.” Here is just a sprinkling of her thoughts reported in the article.

  • children are capable and powerful but our expectations are often mismatched
  • we ask too much of children pragmatically but not enough cognitively
  • there is too much teacher-direction and not enough time for play in many preschool classrooms
  • teachers need to take the time to listen to children’s stories, to laugh with them, to get down on the floor, at their eye level, and figure out what makes them tick … (through) … respectful observation
  • childhood pedagogy should be based on ideas, not on the repetition of simple skills
  • respect for early childhood as a life stage worthy in its own right and not merely as a training ground for an adult future

These are ideas I have oft repeated here on my blog. Please read the article in full and, if you are as inspired as I am, read the recently published book The Importance of Being Little. I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

46 thoughts on “Let them play!

  1. Bec

    Hi Nor, sorry for being late to the party. What a great (and important) post – you have me thoroughly convinced about the importance of play! I also love the title of the book “The importance of being little” – what a lovely idea. I wish you were one of the people wielding power over the education system! Imagine every classroom run as you would have your own…

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Bec. No need to apologise for being late. I received your late slip and notification of alternative arrangements for your education. 🙂
      I would love to be involved in designing educational systems that honour the the importance of being little. A big part of the “system” would be flexibility! Thanks for joining in the conversation. I am always interested in your viewpoint.

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  2. macjam47

    What a wonderful post, Norah. Children learn so much and so easily through play-oriented activities and will soon enough have to move on to a traditional learning platform. I believe play is integral to their development, and there is just too much emphasis on being able to do math and reading that were traditionally started in first grade. But it goes beyond learning. I see so many parents overscheduling their young children, putting them in preschool for five days a week rather than the two or three days that used to be the norm, demanding a full curriculum so that can say my child could read at three, scheduling sports, dance, art classes, and so on, all leaving very little time for their children to play. It’s no wonder we are creating a society full of children who can’t entertain themselves. I love many educational toys, but they don’t have to be labeled educational. Why don’t parents and teachers of today see that simple toys such as dolls, sets of play dishes, trucks, and other vehicles teach children about the grown-up world they are imitating?
    Sorry if I have been absent. I have finally had to set a limit of the time I spend on the computer, but I try to get to as many blogs as I can throughout the week.
    Keep up the great work you do, advocating for children. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your response, Michelle. I agree with every word. Children’s lives are far too structured and organised. There is too much on the timetable, leaving little time to sit and veg (think, imagine, create). If they are in child care, children should be given time to do this, just as they would at home.
      No apologies necessary, Michelle. We all do what we can. I appreciate and feel honoured that you chose my post to read and comment on.
      I hope everything is okay with you?
      Have a good week. Best wishes. Hugs back. xx

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. Melissa McDonald

    Great post! I teach in an elementary school, and I’m still shocked at some of the standards that are taught in kindergarten. They are lucky if it’s pretty out, and they can go outside to play for about 1/2 an hour. It’s really sad.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. “The Importance of Being Little” sounds very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Melissa. It is sad when little ones are not given time to play. How can they be expected to do anything productive if they’re not given time to play, really play. 🙂

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  4. julespaige

    Many parents must find daycare or preschool situations these days often taking a good chunk of the family budget. Kindergarten was as I learned many moons ago a transition from being at home to becoming a social being. Which now starts sometimes as soon as 6 months old or even sooner when parents in the States have to go back to work.

    My own grandson went through a testing process for the half day public Kindergarten. Though due to other circumstances he is now in a full time private program. His daddy was able to sit in on this interesting public school session, where at the end my son was informed that his son spoke in paragraphs and not sentences. Perhaps due to his parents as well as myself continually encouraging him to express himself clearly.

    I understand that assessments are necessary, but even when my own son was in half day public Kindergarten it wasn’t a place to actually play. There was too much structured time in preparation for in some cases, I think, turning a child off from wanting to learn.

    I think it is with mixed expectations that we want our children to be both curious and successful.
    Yet at least in the US schooling is hardly comparable to the demands of some Asian countries.
    Those children often have no opportunity for actual play. At least not from what I have read and seen. I’d better stop here… Great post to keep the love of play and learning alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for adding your voice to the discussion, and in support of play, Jules. I think it is difficult to parent when the only parent or both parents have to return to work when the children are young. I was fortunate to be able to choose to stay home with my children before they started school. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We had to make sacrifices to do so, but perhaps what we lost (financially) was more than made up for in other ways. Sometimes I wonder, with the high cost of childcare, if it is actually financially advantageous for parents to return to work. Sometimes I know they need to do so in order to keep their position.
      You little grandson is fortunate to have a loving family who read to him and encourage him to express himself. He is off to a great start in life.

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      1. julespaige

        Some adults work better with older children and other adults. What escapes me is those adults who have children or care for children but don’t really like children.

        Classes on parenting should be part of the process especially for those who have never had any experiences with children. We knew a single mom who never had any experience with children. In three days she had gone through 90 diapers because she changed the child every 15 minutes! A definite learn as you go possess for her.

        One of my stead fast rules (though I do understand the need for children to be ‘portable’) is to not wake a sleeping child. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          That’s so true, Jules. I agree. But just as important to learn how to care for and nourish children physically, they also need to know how to nourish them intellectually and emotionally. That is the purpose of the early childhood caravan I have mentioned in previous posts. I just wish I could wish it into reality. 🙂

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  5. Gulara

    Play is so important for learning. I love watching my kids play and I love joining in with them too. I think many adults underestimate the importance of play, and so eager for their kids to act grown-up. I’m glad my husband and I are on the same page on this – our priorities are: to let them be kids as long as possible and to make learning exciting. The rest will fall into its place.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Oh, I so agree with you. It is wonderful that you and your hub agree – so difficult when that is not the case. Definitely let them be children for as long as possible. Aren’t they lucky they chose a good pair of parents! 🙂

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  6. Sarah Brentyn

    You have stated this opinion many times so, I agree, you will probably love the book. I’ve seen it mentioned and think it will probably be a great book even though my children are older. Play is good for everyone. ❤️ 😃

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      1. Norah Post author

        Oh yes, please. I love to play. I was going to say, “You’re not old” but in view of my previous response, I guess I have to say, “We’re not old” as I haven’t stopped playing either! Thanks for the reminder. What would you like to play? Your #tweets4blogs on Tuesdays make for a fun game @SarahBrentyn! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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        1. Sarah Brentyn

          Yes! You’re right. The #Tweets4Blogs is a form of play. Playing with words. Hadn’t thought of it in quite that way. 😊 Thanks. (Let’s break open a bottle of wine and blow some bubbles.) 💕

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    1. Norah Post author

      I can be a bit like a cracked record. Now, that makes me think: what 21st century saying should replace that? There must be something. And we’re never too old to stop playing. We only get old when we stop playing! 🙂
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  7. thecontentedcrafter

    Another well thought out post on the importance of play Norah – good work!

    I wonder how many adults would pick up a new skill if they were forced to learn it through sitting at a desk and reading a manual or having a talking head describe what to do and how to do it. And then being rated as successful or failure based on their understanding without having had an opportunity to put anything into practical application. How many of us would be lining up to learn new skills given such a scenario?

    Play is actively ‘imitating’ and ‘doing’ the two primary modes of learning throughout life. [please imagine ‘throughout life’ written in bold capitals and underlined!]

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Pauline. I appreciate that you’ve added your voice to the post with your insightful observations. I have no difficulty using my imagination in the way you have suggested!
      I don’t think many of us would attempt much if we thought a failure grade was going to be tagged to us for as much of our future as we’re able to imagine.
      I appreciate your comment. Thank you. 🙂

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  8. Annecdotist

    Thanks for keeping banging the drum for the importance of play and I love the title of that book! I might have asked before if you’d come across Donald Winnicott’s work on play therapy?

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased you like the title too, Anne. I think it’s a particularly good one. I’m not sure if you’ve mentioned Winnicott before. If you have, I’m pleased you mentioned him again because this time I’ve followed up on it. I have just watched this interesting introduction to his work
      I think I’ll have to delve into his work a little more. I am intrigued by the title of his book, “Home is Where We Start From”. What a great title. Maybe that is a good place for me to start from!
      Thanks for sharing.

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          1. Norah Post author

            I’m pleased you approve. I enjoyed getting the overview of his contribution.
            When I was at school all year nine girls did a “Mothercraft” course. Some of the images in the video reminded me of images I used in making my book.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Yes, I saw that shared on the video and was quite impressed.
          I have always thought that knowing when good enough is good enough is essential to a happy life. Some people strive constantly for perfection and never get there. Some even say I’m a perfectionist. I’ve certainly never considered myself one. I do work hard. I do like to do a good job. But I also like to think I know when good enough is good enough and any further effort would be wasted.

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          1. Annecdotist

            It’s something I struggle with myself but I do agree on its importance for our well-being. I think it’s also helpful to recognise when something isn’t good enough, such as acknowledging the pain of the bad things that happened to us, while accepting that it might be something we can’t change.

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            1. Norah Post author

              That’s true. Accepting when something is good enough, and recognising when it isn’t. It’s sometimes a fine line, that’s difficult to balance. That’s an interesting thought to add to the discussion: acknowledging the pain while accepting the inability to change what happened. What happened may not be good enough, but we can try to improve, and make good enough, with what we can change. Hm. Interesting. Thanks.

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  9. Pingback: Let them play! — Norah Colvin | So, You Think You Can Teach ESL?

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